How to Avoid Going on Tilt in Sales

Going on tilt in sales (and in life!) What is it and how to avoid it.

What is ‘going on tilt’?

Going on tilt is the state of mental/ emotional confusion or frustration in which a person adopts a less than optimal strategy, usually resulting in the individual becoming overly aggressive. You may recognize this as a best practice in poker meaning to be performance-driven as opposed to results orientated. The exact same can be said of Sales.

Focusing on continued performance rather than on the end result appears to be in complete contradiction to what sales professionals are used to hearing. To be successful in sales, you need to understand your target so that you have something to aim for. Without a goal, how can you possibly drive towards success?

Imagine you need to swim across a huge lake, from one shore to another. Any strong swimmer will tell you the best way to get there is to avoid distractions or wasting energy. Focus on your swimming performance, not on the shoreline. If you worry about the shoreline you risk being distracted by factors outside of your control. Another swimmer, a loud flock of seagulls or getting stuck in your own head all impede performance. When you get close to the shoreline, it’s okay to pop your head up to see the best place to land. But doing so too early to see how far you have left to go can add unnecessary stress to your situation.

On avoiding the tilt

In sales, there is only so much you can control. You cannot control the customer or the politics within an organization. You can control your narrative, point of view and activity. Focus on what you can control and do this consistently. Good plays can equal bad results. Study your losses and ensure you reaffirm where you went RIGHT!

The outlying results, especially negative ones, stick with us. Have the courage to do the same right thing again. Be on top of your follow-ups and next steps – driving towards the habits that make a good salesperson VS thinking about how much quota you still have to retire and all of the consequences to not getting there (another way to be distracted, in a dark place that leads to going on tilt). The sad news is that bad plays can equal good results.

Lookout for these pitfalls and the results:

  • When working towards deadlines, many unnatural things happen to move a deal along which typically ends with Customer Success having to untangle a precarious situation. Over-promising and under-delivering puts the customer and the business in a terrible position. Now we are at risk of customer attrition.
  • Repeating unnatural, dishonest tactics prevents a sales professional from A) becoming better and B) being able to ever have a predictable quarter/year with a linear closing pattern.
  • Everybody loses out when bad plays are repeated. The customer loses, as does the brand of the company and sales rep.
  • Stop working so hard! Bad plays, in the end, have you working harder under constant fear. A healthy amount of fear can be good as it makes you focus. Constant fear and frustration (being on tilt) are not sustainable. It leads to employee turnover and prompts customer attrition due to over-promising and under-delivering.

Tips to elevate Your sales performance

Discipline – Wake up early and block out distractions. Set aside time for your colleagues and breaks, do not let others interrupt your focus. It takes 20 minutes to get back on task once you’ve been interrupted. And for goodness sake do not forget to follow up!

Preparation – Prepare for your calls, prepare to speak to your manager and prepare for your day with a checklist. This alone will hold you accountable and ensure you recall things that may have slipped through the cracks otherwise

Strategy – Know your go-to-market (GTM). Who should you be talking to and why? Why you and why now? What is the best approach with the persona you are targeting?

Tactical execution – There’s a lot to unload here. My advice is just to execute and not take too long determining how. Doing something is always better than doing nothing. Ideally, you will have a team of experts and mentors to help you – keep things moving!

Negotiation – Being on tilt makes this impossible. Your product/service/solution will become a commodity very quickly if you do not stay level headed. My boss recommended this book and it’s well worth a read, Never Split the Difference.

Game theory – I had a COO once that used to drill into us that if you ask the right questions and studied a customer’s behavior, not their words, you could see around corners. That guy was an asshole but he was right about this.

Play the opponent, not the hand – I spent some time at a very large slow-moving company where I helped sell an exceptional product. I was outsold 75% of the time by a competitor that had a better, faster and more exciting sales model. Their GTM was simply superior and it took me too long to figure out how to beat them. You need to believe in your product/service, but this is not an “if you build it, they will come” scenario. Make sure you don’t get outsold.

Analyze the data – Borrring. But wait! This is fairly simple and the key to finding your best opportunities. Where have you been successful and why? Where can you go next and what insights can help? There is low hanging fruit waiting for you to capitalize on. Shameless plug, this is exactly what Traction Complete can help with.


Want deeper focus and greater insight into your customers? Traction Complete helps you truly understand who your customer is. Our platform helps improve performance with your customers and key accounts as opposed to, spraying and praying and hoping enough comes in so you get the result you want. Book a demo today.


Performance is doing the things you need to do to get the results you want. Results are a byproduct.
– Steve McKenzie, InsightSquared VP of Sales

Written by

Tara Plouffe

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